Sports

MONK ON A MISSION

ROUND OF 32, FIRST LEG

SWANSEA v NAPOLI

(Tomorrow, 4am, SingTel mio TV Ch 111)

Garry Monk faces the biggest test of his fledgling coaching career tomorrow morning (Singapore time) when Swansea meet Italian heavyweights Napoli in the Europa League.

The last-32 first-leg clash at the Liberty Stadium sees Swansea boss Monk face an intriguing head-to-head with revered Napoli chief Rafa Benitez.

While Monk's coaching reign has spanned just three games since he succeeded Michael Laudrup in the Swansea hotseat, Benitez's record is one laced with success and silverware.

"Of course, I never excepted to be in this position," Monk said.

"I was a player going into training one moment, then taking charge of games we have had already like the (south Wales) derby, and now against Napoli, so it's a whirlwind.

"But I am prepared. I am a level-headed lad, I know what I want to do.

"Napoli are one of the best teams in Europe. I have seen a lot of their games and studied them. They have good players all over the pitch.

"At this moment, they are one of the most powerful clubs in terms of what they can spend and the quality of players they have, so we are in for a tough time, but it is a game we are really looking forward to.

FOCUS

"We are under no illusions how tough it will be, but if players can concentrate on themselves and be at their best, that is all we can do."

Swansea have beaten Cardiff and drawn at Stoke in the English Premier League since Monk took charge, with their solitary defeat being last Sunday's FA Cup fifth-round loss to Everton.

Monk made several changes for the Goodison Park trip and, while it is likely he will revert to a more familiar line-up against Napoli, there will be no return from injury for star striker Michu at this stage following ankle surgery last December.

Said Monk: "Whatever team is picked is one I think can win the game. When a new manager comes in, it is a fresh slate, and I've said there are so many games everybody will play, and that's the truth.

"The priority is staying in the Premier League, that is fundamental for the club, but... we want to put on a performance we can be proud of. That is the mentality I've had since I have come in, and we will take it into this game.

STRONG

"They (Napoli) will be strong no matter who they put out, and I am sure they will go as strong as they can even if he (Benitez) rotates international players throughout the squad."

Benitez said he is optimistic that star striker Gonzalo Higuain, who had a knock on the back in Sunday's 2-0 win at Sassuolo in the Serie A, will play.

Said Benitez: "I will talk it over with him and see. Raul Albiol is not 100 per cent either, so we'll see."

The former Liverpool and Chelsea manager added that although Monk had just taken over, it is never easy playing against an EPL side.

He said: "I don't know whether Swansea will focus more on domestic challenges or the Europa League, but we do have the slight advantage of knowing their style of football." - PA Sport.

OTHER FIXTURES

l Anzhi Makachkala v Genk

l Juventus v Trabzonspor

l Esberg v Fiorentina

l Liberec v AZ Alkmaar

l Chornomorets Odessa v Lyon

l Dynamo Kiev v Valencia*

l PAOK v Benfica

l Porto v Eintracht Frankfurt

l Betis v Rubin Kazan

l Maribor v Sevilla

l Viktoria Plsen v S Donetsk

l Lazio v Ludogorets

l Ajax Amsterdam v Salzburg

l Maccabi Tel-Aviv v Basel


*To be played in Cyprus 
due to anti-government demonstrations in Kiev.